Regional Media Support

09 November 2020

I rise to support the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020. All of us in this place respect the importance of Australia's media and particularly its independence. However, due to the long-term actions of this government, independent and sustainable regional broadcast media is no longer sustainable. The range of regulations this government has forced on regional broadcasters is not reflective or relevant to the output or the reach of these stations. Regional media is not the poor cousin to our metropolitan broadcasters; it is no less important.

This government has shown that regional media was facing market failure—and it failed to act. In 2017, 12 regional and remote stations failed to meet the Australian content quota. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications made it clear that some regional broadcasters were facing difficulties in meeting their Australian content requirements. Three years later, the government now decides to act as the guardian of regional media, while allowing regional broadcasters to stumble without any support. The department stated that the government will need to take action before more market failure occurs as this would limit regional audiences' access to Australian content.

If the government supports the notion that the current framework for regional and remote broadcasting isn't sustainable, why have they waited so long to act? This industry is facing an existential threat, and this government has done too little too late. Jobs, livelihoods and access to information are at risk in regional Australia. We have already seen local media in metropolitan areas slow significantly and start to cut jobs. We are seeing the ABC being forced to cut jobs because successive coalition governments are strangling the ABC through budget shortfalls.

This bill will allow regional broadcasters to monitor their work at a pace of their own output, which includes easier staff rostering, a move towards a complaint based approach rather than ACMA monitoring, and the removal of the three-year statutory review. The bill will also not decrease the amount of local content which is currently available to regional audiences on commercial radio. The landscape of media in regional areas is not comparable to metropolitan Australia and can't be held to the same obligations. Regional Australians cannot be sold short. Major structural reform is needed if regional media is to survive indefinitely without market failure. It's taken three years for the government to do anything about this problem, yet this bill is an all-too-familiar quick fix. A little bit of duct tape cannot hold back a cracking dam wall. Longstanding regulatory burdens cannot be undone with a simple amendment. If this is what the government has been working on for three years, it's not really a good effort.

A new regulatory framework needs to be prepared for regional media outlets. It needs to be developed with evidence based research and industry consultation, and have at its core the interests of regional communities. Recent times have shown just how much regional communities rely on their local media. We saw it during the bushfires, and we're also seeing it now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bushfire victims had to rely heavily on regional broadcasts for the safety of their friends and family. If not for quick, decisive information, many Australians could have lost more than their homes; they would have lost their lives.

With the announcement that more than 125 News Corp papers will now be closed or digitalised, regional communities take another hit. Some of these outlets provided a voice for the local community for more than 150 years. Regional Queensland is the hardest hit by these closures, with 22 publications going digital. This not only monopolises and limits the regional content being displayed but it also means the journalists who have worked in these regional communities will no longer have a job and/or opportunities in the area, further draining regional areas of local talent and experienced opportunities. During these tough times, to further burden regional communities that are attempting to recover from drought, bushfire and recession is unacceptable. Put simply, the government has failed to act in the best interests of these communities. It has failed to reform the regulatory framework that has burdened the industry for years. We can't allow the government to turn a blind eye to the issues in regional Australia and, with that, allow it to destroy the outlets which have proven invaluable for decades. The government needs to do more to ensure the long-term sustainability of regional media on which regional communities and, more importantly, Australians rely.